Stratford is a rural town in Gippsland on the Avon River. Easily accessible from Melbourne by train, Stratford has many parks and cafes to visit, and a yearly Shakespeare festival held in the autumn months, making it a lovely town to see for any traveller looking for a quieter, lesser-known destination.
Prior to European settlement, the Braiakaulung clan of the Gunai nation inhabited the area around what was to become Stratford. The first European to discover the Avon River which Stratford sits on was the explorer Angus McMillan in 1840. It was given the name held by various rivers in McMillan's native Scotland; avon meant "river" in several ancient British languages. Stratford was first settled by Europeans two years later. While the origins of the name are unclear, it is possible it was named after Stratford-upon-Avon (a town in England), or that it was named as it was a fording place across the Avon River.
When gold was discovered north of Stratford in 1860, many supplies were brought through the town. The post office, Anglican church, and some buildings at the Stratford primary school date back to this time. Flooding was a frequent issue, and in 1950, a particularly destructive inundation smashed the bridge and claimed the life of Stratford resident Florence Evelyn Beechey. Her grave is marked on the banks of the Avon at McMillan St. The local government finally built a strong bridge in 1965 that still stands.
In 1991, the Shakespeare Festival began in Stratford, drawing visitors to the town yearly to see performances of the Bard's plays. It also joined a sister group of other Stratfords across the world, including those in England, Ontario, Connecticut, Prince Edward Island, and New Zealand.
As of the 2016 census, Stratford has a population of 2,617. Compared to Victoria as a whole, a disproportionate amount of Stratford residents work in dairy farming and oil and gas extraction. Many residents work in local businesses or in nearby Sale.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Stratford's climate is generally temperate, though at times a bit colder than Melbourne's. In the summer, while it can reach as high as 40 °C (104 °F), however, the average high is around 26 °C (79 °F). But the winter months can dip to around 0 °C (32 °F). Rain is generally most likely to fall in the spring months; however, like Melbourne, weather can change from sunny in the morning to raining in the afternoon; another four seasons a day town.
The drive from Melbourne to Stratford is mainly along the Princes Freeway. From the Melbourne CBD, you can take the M1 route along the Citylink and Monash Freeway towards the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne, which will take you through the not-very-scenic route past Chadstone, Dandenong and Pakenham. When you're on the Princes Fwy heading east, however, you'll find yourself on the same road until you get to Stratford — although the road does change from the Princes Freeway (M1) to the Princes Highway (A1) in Traralgon.
You don't pass as many towns as you might expect, as the highway bypasses Warragul, Moe and Morwell, but you will pass the small towns of Yarragon and Trafalgar, which have fuel stations. You'll also drive straight through Traralgon and Sale, both regional centres with chain restaurants like KFC and McDonald's that are useful for a quick snack. Sale can also be bypassed using C491 and C492, which is an unofficial bypass used by freight vehicles. Stratford is the next town after Sale on the Princes Hwy. Rental cars can be hired within Melbourne and from Melbourne Airport.
1 Stratford Railway Station is on the Bairnsdale railway line. Train services are available 7 days a week, 3 times a day (except on Sundays, where there are only 2 train services), from Melbourne's Southern Cross and Flinders Street stations. Interchanging to a coach service may be necessary in Traralgon or Sale, depending on your choice of schedule. A full list of services is available here.
Myki cards cannot be used to book public transport to Stratford — you must purchase a paper ticket using either the V/Line website or by visiting a V/Line ticket outlet. Tickets cost $33.40 one way and $66.80 return, with the price halved for concession card holders and children. Among other places, tickets are available at Southern Cross and Flinders Street railway stations. Tickets aren't actually available in Stratford, oddly enough, so if you didn’t book a return ticket to Melbourne, you will have to get the ticket from Sale train station. Due to maintenance work or other events, coaches may be replacing trains when you plan to visit. Check the V/Line website to stay up to date.
On Thursdays, a bus service operates from Sale to Stratford, leaving from Gippsland Shopping Centre at 2:15PM and arriving at the Stratford Post Office at 2:30PM. While there are 4 stops in town, there is practically zero usefulness in using them to get around town — the only two areas of interest they connect are the memorial park and the post office, and they're across the road from each other. It's easier to just walk. The full timetable is available here.
Stratford is traversable almost entirely by foot. Stratford has a single BP gas station for refuelling. The roads are mainly flat, so cycling is an option. However, many roads do not have sidewalks, and the road to Knob Reserve, Old Redbank Rd, is a tad steep. There is no useful public transport in the town. Note that the Princes Hwy is named "Tyers Street" within the town, and is the main road in Stratford. There is no car rental available in Stratford, but you can hire a car from nearby Sale to get around. There are some useful signs that have been put up in town that show how far away certain attractions are by walking distance.
Stratford doesn't have a lot of tourist attractions to see, and that's kind of its charm. There isn't nothing, though. Stratford has parks and reserves that are usually pretty quiet and pleasant to visit.
- 1 Apex Park. 24 hours daily. At the eastern end of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, which stretches from Traralgon to Stratford. There are two playgrounds, one medieval-themed and one nature-based, a BMX track, as well as benches and barbecue areas. It's located right on the Avon River, and if you're lucky you will see trains going past on the railway bridge.
- 2 Knob Reserve. 24 hours daily. A traditional meeting place of the indigenous Gunaikurnai people. Located just outside Stratford, it's a 35-minute walk to get to the reserve from Tyers St. There are two walking paths among the trees here, before you reach the Avon River. The reserve also has an oval and benches which are sometimes used by local groups. Free.
- 3 Memorial Park, 67-71 Tyers St. 24 hours daily. As this park is right on the Princes Hwy/Tyers St, cars will often speed past. There is a shaded picnic area with tables, a barbecue and public toilets, as well as a small kids' playground. An obelisk war memorial is located at the park to honour soldiers from Stratford.
Again, there's not a lot to do in Stratford. However, in the summer months, swimming is an option, and there's also a yearly Shakespeare festival.
- 1 Arts Trail, ☏ . 24 hours daily. A 3-km walking trail through the town along the Avon River, passing Shakespeare-themed artworks. The trail starts outside the library, and goes down Raymond Street to get to Merrick Street, which looks down on the Avon River. Go south down Merrick Street to get to the Garden for Humanity, which is at the corner of Merrick and McMillan Street, and contains some historic trees and benches. Going down McMillan Street, you'll reach the Princes Highway, you cross to reach Apex Park, and take a gravel path to McMillan Street (McMillan Street is split in twain by the railway line, you need to end up east of the railway line). This may be difficult for those with injury and disability. The historic railway bridge near the Apex Park is worth a detour.
A path that's past the intersection of Wellsford Street and McMillan Street, but before the intersection of Davis Street and McMillan Street, takes you to a platform near the river. It's uphill on the way back. From there, you can head down left on McMillan Street, turn onto Wellsford Street to McAlister Street, and then turn right at the Princes Highway. Turn right onto Dixon Street, and you'll arrive at the train station, which is the end of the trail. There are various signs and landmarks along the trail that'll help you find your way. Audio tour available from Segue Cafe. Free.
- 2 Stratford Swimming Pool, McMillan St (on the corner of Tyers St, opposite Apex Park), ☏ . November-March. Stratford's only swimming pool, open in summer. There are three pools — a smaller baby pool, a shallow kids pool, and a main all-ages pool. Swimming lessons may be taking place in the main pool. Adult $6.60, Child (5-15) $4.40, Concession card holder $5.30.
Spare some change?
There are no banks in Stratford. There are two ATMs in town — one at the IGA and one at the BP. From the post office, you can deposit money with most Australian banks and credit unions (with the major exclusion of ANZ, full list available here), as well as transfer money overseas using Western Union. There are branches of Commonwealth Bank, NAB, and Bendigo Bank in Maffra. All of the big four banks (Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, NAB and Westpac) have branches in Sale.
There are a few stores and shops in Stratford, all on or around Tyers St. Some specialise in specific unique items or crafts, like the model train store.
- 2 BP, 25 Tyers St. M-F 6AM-9PM, Sa-Su and public holidays 7AM-9PM. Petrol station. ATM and a coffee machine available.
- 3 Hobbies Plus, 40 Tyers St, ☏ . W-Sa 10AM-3PM. Model train store, selling OO and N scale models of Australian, British and American trains and scenery. Also open by appointment.
- 4 IGA, 67 Tyers St, ☏ . M-Sa 8:30AM-7PM, Su 9AM-7PM. Stratford's only supermarket has the basics of what you'll need to get by. Don't expect any specialty products, but if you're looking for groceries, this is the easiest place to go. Also has a liquor section and an ATM.
- 5 Segue Cafe, 66 Tyers St, ☏ . W-Sa 9:30AM-2:30PM. A community house and cafe with local arts and craft, some available for purchase, as well as a gallery. There are helpful brochures available here on local attractions and nearby destinations. Home of the town's Shakespeare festival.
For breakfast and lunch, there are a few good options in Stratford. However, the only dinner option open is the bistro at the Avon Hotel. Self-catering may be needed here, and you'll likely want to pick up supplies from the IGA in that case.
- 1 Avon Valley Foodhouse, 39-41 Tyers St, ☏ . M-F 6AM-2PM, Sa-Su 8AM-3PM. Cafe and fast food restaurant open for breakfast and lunch. Both indoor and outdoor dining is available. Menu items include bacon and eggs, burgers and hot chips. $4-$20.
- 2 Badger and Hare, 20 Tyers St, ☏ . M Tu Th F 7AM-3PM, Sa-Su 8AM-3PM. Cafe inspired by Melbourne laneway culture, open for breakfast and lunch. Dining is available both indoors and outdoors, and the brew of coffee is sourced from Richmond with notes of caramel and chocolate. Gluten free and vegetarian options are available. Breakfast and lunch prices range from $12-$24. Excluding wines, drinks cost $4-$7. 10% surcharge on public holidays.
- 3 The Ticklish Turtle Cafe, 82 Tyers St, ☏ . 8AM-1PM. Coffee house. Dining is available in two settings, one outdoors on the highway with a garden-style setting, and one indoors with a more vintage setting. $5-$6.
- 4 Wa-De-Lock Cellar Door, 76 Tyers St, ☏ . Daily 8:30AM-5:30PM, 9AM-4PM on public holidays. Cafe, deli and bottleshop with a focus on local produce. Indoor and outdoor dining is offered, with outdoor dining either in the alfresco area or in the wine garden. Service is quick and friendly. The building dates back to 1870, and has been run by the current owners since 2004.
If all of these have reached maximum capacity or are closed, then there are some popular restaurants in Sale, the next closest city and only a 10-minute drive away.
Liquor is also available for purchase from the IGA.
- 1 Avon Hotel, 47 Tyers St, ☏ . Bistro: daily noon-2PM, 6-8:30PM. Bar: M-Sa 10:30AM-1AM, Su noon-11PM. Stratford's only pub. It's divided into a bar section and a bistro section, and alfresco dining is also available in the bistro. Their meat, fish and vegetables are locally sourced. Vegetarian options are available. The pub features a drive-through bottleshop. Lunch menu: $16. Full meal at dinner (entree, main and dessert): $35-$64.
- 1 Deep Creek Gully Farm Stay Cottage, 35 Gooch Rd, ☏ . Small hotel at a wildlife shelter. $145 per night.
- 2 Stratford Motel, 26 Tyers St, ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. 11 rooms, including spa room with kitchen, family rooms, BBQ area, free undercover parking, and free wifi. $98-$170.
- 3 Stratford on the River Tourist Park, 16 McMillan St, ☏ . Check-in: 2-5:30PM (2-8:30PM in peak season), check-out: 10AM. A caravan park on the banks of the Avon river which has on-site cabins, as well as powered sites that can be used for caravans or camping. Pets are welcome, and there's a small dog wash at the park. Cabins $88-$145 ($98-$155 in peak), Powered sites $35 ($45 in peak).
Apart from usual travel precautions, there are no significant safety concerns in Stratford. The 1 Stratford Police Station is at 89 Tyers St (☏ ) and the 2 Stratford Fire Brigade is at 51 McFarlane St (☏ ). 3 Stratford Medical Centre is available for general medical concerns, and also has a pharmacy. The nearest hospital is in Sale.
Internet is available at 4 Stratford Library, which is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10AM-1:30PM and 3-6PM, as well as Sundays from 10AM-noon. In town, mobile phone coverage is available on the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone 4G networks. They can be spotty but are generally fine. There's a 5 Telstra payphone at 11 Hobson St, opposite the IGA. 6 Stratford LPO is Stratford's only post office.
- Dargo is a small hamlet that's a 90-minute drive up into the High Country from Stratford.
- Sale is about a 10-minute drive away; you can also catch the train here. It's a regional centre, where you can see things such as the Gippsland Art Gallery, go on a heritage cruise from the Port of Sale, visit the Sale botanical gardens, and more. Sale is also useful for food if you're based in Stratford — being a larger town, the choice of cuisine tends to be larger, and Sale is also home to international fast food brands like KFC and Maccas.
- Seaspray is about a 35-minute drive from Stratford and located on the scenic Ninety Mile Beach. Swimming, fishing and boating are all options.
- Maffra is the closest town to Stratford. As it's slightly larger, it's useful for groceries — it has an IGA, Woolworths and FoodWorks. Maffra has a sugarbeet museum chronicling the industry in the town.
- Traralgon is a major town and a gateway to Melbourne, as it is where the Princes Fwy (M1) starts.
|Routes through Stratford|
|Melbourne ← Sale ←||W E||→ Bairnsdale → Lakes Entrance|
|Melbourne ← Sale ←||W E||→ Bairnsdale|